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Living Downstream

Living Downstream

Serious diseases like cancer have always been highly depressing phenomena for the ill and their families. The inability to find the cures that would be helpful for such a disease, or other similar to it, has become one of the first pushes to search for the deeper reasons underlying cancer development. With regard to Steingraber, Carson and other scholars’ ideas presented in the books and lectures, it is necessary to investigate numerous evidences of the tight interaction between cancer rates and other diseases’ growth and environment pollution. The evidences presented in this paper show that Steingraber’s message and arguments from the book are quite efficient to prove that precautionary actions of people, like making environment free of carcinogenic and other harmful toxins using various alternatives and control methods, are a scientifically proven effective contribution to raising the health levels among humanity.

The book Living Downstream (1997), written by the poet and biologist, refers to the timely problem of humanity – cancer. The progress of this disease during the last decades cannot be neglected. During 50 years since the middle of the 20th century, the amount of people suffering from cancer in the US has decreased for 15%. A great number of sources show that cancer has become a great threat and, literally, a killer for almost half of adult Americans aged 35 and more. The statistics presented above are obviously shocking and made Steingraber focus on the factors that predetermine the progress of this disease. Among such is the main argument in her book based on the connection between cancer and chemical contamination of the environment. Steinberg (1997) has put a special emphasis on separate natural zones to show that the expansion of the chemical herbicides usage in farming is a great contribution to decreasing the cancer rates. Nevertheless, Steingraber (1997) understands the limitations of science and reflects on the issue from different perspectives. She understands that cancer prevention should be based on a number of researches. She pays special attention to cigarette smoking as a well-known factor to influence the cancer incidence rates. Steingraber (1997) also marked out that breast and prostate cancers are more amendable to therapy, in case of their earlier disclosure. Moreover, smoking is highly detrimental, as it causes lung cancer, “favors non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma” etc. (Steigraber, 1997). At the same time, to mark out the importance of her concepts, she dismisses the idea supported by American Cancer Society that obesity can cause breast cancer. She writes a lot about estrogenic effects of some chemicals and offers the “alternative therapies lacking estrogen matters”, as those that should be regarded as risky (Steingraber, 1997). In order to provide more supportive arguments to her point of view, Steigraber (1997) quotes the data from some earlier sources. Among such, one can find vitro studies with numerous evidences of “dramatic synergistic effects” of the estrogen environmental substances (Steigraber, 1997). Furthermore, the term that she widely applies when talking about industrial chemicals is carcinogen. Nevertheless, her explanations and classifications of genotoxic and other chemical as well as the distinction between the different impacts of the doses are quite unclear and simplified to use in scientific works. Consequently, the central ideas presented in Living Downstream can be defined as showing the links of cancer and the environmental changes and the role of precaution means and pollution control.

The way Sandra Steigraber presents her message is unique. Her language sounds both scientifically and fictionally. The whole story sounds like a fictional detective book, based on the trip to Tazewell County in Illinois, where the author came to investigate the origin of the rare bladder cancer (Steigraber, 1997). As she has grown up in this place, her aim was to find the origin of the disease that she contracted when she was twenty. Such a story makes the readers sympathize the writer and get interested in her strength to struggle and search for the answers and underlying reasons of the problem. Apart from the lyrical and exciting part of the story, it is filled with scientific and statistical data that makes the words and assumptions of Steingraber sound more credible. She marks out a list of evidences that connection between environment contamination and cancer cannot be denied. Steingraber’s investigations and deep studies brought the author to the following conclusions; chemicals cannot only promote cancer, but ruin the endocrine and immune systems of the organism. The studies showed that their impact is deteriorating for both – animals and humans. Steigraber (1997) represents the examples of shellfish and fish liver cancer rates, living in the polluted water in North America. The observation of sixteen different species showed the presence of the disease among all representatives living in the polluted water and no deviations among the inhabitants of the pure water ponds (Steigraber, 1997). Another fact that restricts the rising cancer rates from the lifestyle is the progress of the disease among children, who are not depended on smoking or alcohol drinking. The investigations show that cancer clusters are mostly located closer to the factories that pollute nature. Moreover, the rural areas, where the pesticide use is much lower than in the urban ones, show the smaller amounts of sick people. Finally, one can conclude that together with the poetic style, Steingraber “carefully pieced together the evidences” to find the right answers (Steingraber, 1997). Therefore, Steingraber puts an emphasis on the fact that partial evidences can also become the basis for some action against the disease. In the given case, the most effective actions that bring no harm are the precautious ones. According to Living Downstream, it is important to influence the ways of thinking and put peculiar emphasis on the aspect of human rights.

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Paying more attention to the estrogens and mainly to the synthetic ones, one should remember diethylstilbestrol. This substance was proven to be harmful for people’s development of the clear cell adenocarcinoma among daughters, whose mothers used it while pregnant, and congenital deformities among their sons. Among other impacts of this estrogen, the scholars found out that it causes chromosomal abnormalities that can lead to such diseases as Burkitt’s lymphoma, chronic myclogenous leukemia, Down, Kleinfelter or Turner syndromes. Additionally, the damage of the carcinogens marked out by Steigraber is an activation or deactivation of genes that can cause a variety of serious or minor mutations. To sum it up, it is obvious that synthetic estrogen and other types of chemicals have a terrible impact on human health that can be passed through generations.
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The idea of the necessity to pay more attention to the harm that the humanity and natural environment can bring to one another is not something new. For instance, in her documentary, “Silent Spring”, Carson (1963) criticized the usage of pesticides. If one would compare the views and works of Carson and Steingraber, it is essential to emphasize that both women have biological education. Therefore, they both have sufficient knowledge on the humans’ and animals’ organisms, functioning of the life-supporting systems and a basic knowledge in chemistry. According to Carson’s views, the “biocides”, as she called the harmful chemicals, have a crucially negative impact on the living organisms (Carson, 1963). Paying special attention to the chemical industry, the biologist emphasized the importance of human relations with nature. The polluted environment was defined as a real problem for people’s health. Hence, thought the works of two women were created in different times, they obviously interweave and touch the common issues. If for Steingraber, the main motivation to reflect on the chemical’s harm was the growth of cancer rates, in the end of the 20th century, Carson was pushed to write her work because of the quick development of the chemical industry in 1950. With regard to the dates and statistics presented in both works, one can conclude that Steingraber probably developed the idea of her predecessor, as they both started out from 1950s, when the chemical factories rose. Being not only a biologist, but a person fascinated by nature in her soul, Carson (1963) drew a parallel between chemicals and poison, as well as Steingraber considers them as carcinogens and killing substances. Carson’s reports (1963) are also based on the credible numerical evidences and studies representing the negative impacts of chemicals on nature. The “hazard of pesticides” is defined by the author as a serious problem of the technologies and industries development; the cancer-causing herbicide found in cranberries is a good evidence for it, as well as a good background for Steingraber’s deeper investigation of carcinogens and their origin (Carson, 1963).
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The above mentioned analysis shows that Steingraber’s book is exceptionally valuable and interesting for different readers. Being a mixture of the poetic language and scientific facts, it is a unique piece of literature in this area. Although there are some works that cover the same issues, Living Downstream represents the problem and the offers to solve it. The scientific evidences and numerous examples have let Steigraber prove that the connection between the environment pollution and human or animals’ health is very strong. The toxins, chemicals, estrogen, radiation, and pesticides are the factors that are more likely to cause the cancer rates rise, rather than smoking or obesity. The terrific statistical data that shows considerable deterioration of the state of human population emphasizes the inevitability to implement the alternative methods of industrial and agricultural production. The essential precautious means are the best ways to avoid various mutations among the living beings in modern times and throughout generations.

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